Sunday, February 1, 2015

Book Review: Jupiter

Ben Bova
Science fiction

Ben Bova got the science right in this one, but he got the story wrong. Guess which one is more important?

Let's just go down the list.

  1. "The main character is unhappy" is not the same thing as "conflict".
  2. This is doubly true if your main character doesn't do anything. In Jupiter, there's one viewpoint character, Grant Archer. At no point in the story does he ever make a consequential decision, or take any initiative, or show any insight.
  3. That "conflict" thing also benefits if you decide who or what the antagonist is. There are man-vs.-man stories. There are man-vs.-nature stories. There are man-vs.-society stories. There are man-vs.-himself stories. Pick one. Be leery of picking more than one. Do not try bits of all four.
  4. Dangling plots are not your friend. If you spend precious words describing how Grant Archer is getting the hots for one of his co-workers, or interacting with a semi-intelligent gorilla, or doing Sciency Stuff, then you kinda want that to actually have some effect during the last third of the book.
  5. Page 316: "'My God', said Grant, 'they are intelligent." As a chapter ending, this is something less than a shocking revelation, since we readers have known this fact since page 74.
  6. The deus ex machina is no less a contrivance if the deus is a super-powered alien creature instead of a god.
  7. The cliche of Good Scientists/Bad Religious Fanatics is done now.
There's more, but I think my point is made.

By the way, Jupiter has a more-than-trivial resemblance to Arthur C. Clarke's fine novella A Meeting With Medusa. Bova acknowledges the connection with a couple of textual bows, which is honorable him, but the comparison is not in Jupiter's favor.  


  1. As I remember it, the book was published about 15 years ago. I wonder if the cliche of the Good Scientist was as entrenched then as it is now.

  2. Damn good memory you've got there!

    In my opinion, this cliche has been cliched since the 1950s at the latest.